Alterations

Void Transactions
Unpredictable Series 2017

Mike Caratti/Rachel Musson/Steve Beresford

Hesitantly Pleasant

Iluso Records IRCD 007

Steve Beresford is the Kilroy of Free Music. Just like the figure caricatured with his nose peering over a fence, going back to the 1970s the London-based pianist has been part of all manner of representative improvised sessions. Among them were and are Derek Bailey’s Company Week, the London Improvisers Orchestra (LIO), The Dedication Orchestra, Freedom of the city, a Butch Morris conduction, the 2011 Berlin festival defining British Improv, composing and arranging for movies and TV and teaching at the university level.

None of this has impeded his interest getting out and playing as frequently as possible. These live CDs, recorded within six months of one another, testify to that and could also provide the basis for his segment if an alternative universe Entertainment Tonight began tracking free improvisers as it does film stars. Recorded live at London’s Café Oto, Void Transactions is a representative 2016 reunion of the Alterations, the quartet active from 1977 to 1986, which first raised Beresford’s profile and incidentally was the template that helped define the so-called Second Generation of British improviser. Partnering his piano and electronics are Peter Cusack using guitar and field recordings; David Toop playing guitar bass, flute, fiddle and objects and Terry Day, who moves among drums, percussion, balloons, bamboo pipes and objects. Trying to define the number of impov generations that have followed them would be somewhat like trying to differentiate Marxist ginger groups in leftwing British politics, but Beresford has played with many formerly younger players, including some, such as saxophonist John Butcher and bassist John Edwards, who are now as ubiquitous as he. Hesitantly Pleasant however, recorded at London’s Vortex Café in 2017, introduces yet another, even younger, configuration with his piano and electronics matched with Rachel Musson’s alto and tenor saxophones and Australian Mike Caratti’s drums and percussion.

Over the course of three long selections, the members of Alterations quickly bridge the 30-year performance gap; at least they manage to stroke, bang, toot, strum, vibrate and stretch any instrument on which they put their hands. At least diagramming the free textural and rubato interludes that take up most of “Saturday Night” and “Sunday Night” would be nearly impossible. But the miasmatic, pitch-sliding patterning works as well as a visual artist’s pointillism creates a distinctive painting. Throwing into the musical blender timbres resulting from growling and whistling horns, processed electricity, guitar twangs and convulsive percussion thwacks during the first selection, the quartet builds up to a middle sequence that replicates the sounds of a traditional Jazz piano-bass-and-drums trio. So effective is that stance, it’s a shock when disruptive polyphony in the shape of slurred guitar fingering and slide-whistle like peeps conspire to remove any identifying figurativism these whole notes provide. Humor enters the equation as well since from that point until the end, Beresford continues injecting night club-styled, Bop-emulating chords in the background as the other bang, tickle and blow into any manner of objects to keep up the sophisticated disruption. “Sunday Night” is more of the same at greater length, although the versatile noises Day can pull from balloon stroking and manipulation receive a showcase with another mid-section climax featuring Hard Rock drumming, while signal processed drones push aside the bamboo-flute whispers and organ-like continuum that characterizes the initial sequences. Like Asian craftsmen who took advantage of post-war western incursions to create unique products, the Alterations exit with their distinctive dissonant tone expansions underlying a pleasant melody with a Blakan-Klezmer-like lilt. “Sunday Encore” is even more instructive since like the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing the band amplifies its simple bamboo flute puffs, whistles and clicking cymbals into a savage rite of guitar riffs, cross panning buzzes and whumping drums.

Although Void Transactions reaches its climax with an approximation of Avant-Rock, the seven selections on Hesitantly Pleasant are firmly in the Free Improv genre. That shouldn’t be a surprise since unlike the eccentric field recording and academic currents characterizing The Alterations; Musson is firmly in the Jazz-Improv tradition. Like Day and Beresford she has been a member of the LIO and recorded on her own with players such as drummer Mark Sanders and Edwards. Caratti appears to have made his way from Perth-based noise combos. But his assured drumming here betrays no Rock-Jazz schizophrenia. By “Complex Footwork and Violent Movement”, the second selection, the three are operating on a level playing field with the saxophonist’s Aylerian split tones brushing up against the drummer’s precise thumps and the pianist’s coordinated high-pitched slashes, entwined as free-flowing tumult. “Geel” and “Psychic Fair” give Caratti more scope to display his muted clip-clop time-keeping and galloping rattles and wiggles. Bridging not bravado, as these beats stream along, they pick up a flowing narrative from the piano, link to Musson’s tongue-slapping and mutiphonic variables, finally cocooning with the others for kinetics underscored by electronic throbs.

All through the last two tracks the three function like a text book example of Free Jazz playing. Without showy solipsism, the trio ingeniously springs from so-called inside to outside considerations; with Musson propelling stream-of-consciousness screams on “Still Horrible” following an episode of hide-and-seek with Caratti’s grounded clatters and kinetic piano glissandi. This reed outpouring culminates in bagpipe-like expressions which inflate and color the improvisational space so that the contributions from each can blend comfortably.

Beresford’s longevity as a stylist is confirmed with these discs along with his ingenuity in (m) any circumstances.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Void: 1. Saturday Night 2. Sunday Night 3. Sunday Encore

Personnel: Void: Steve Beresford (piano, electronics, objects); Peter Cusack (guitar and taped field recordings); David Toop (guitar bass, flute, fiddle and objects); Terry Day (drums, percussion, balloons, bamboo pipes and objects)

Track Listing: Hesitantly: 1. Hesitantly Pleasant 2. Complex Footwork and Violent Movement 3. A Unique Haircut 4. Geel 5. Psychic Fair 6. Still Horrible 7. Nunc Pro Tunc

Personnel: Hesitantly: Rachel Musson (alto and tenor saxophones); Steve Beresford (piano and electronics) and Mike Caratti (drums and percussion)